Debra Darvickenhance your now in word and image
Our summer study of Psalms ended with Psalm 150, the last one in the Book of Psalms and thus the last writing in the entire canon known as Writings, in Hebrew, Ketuvim. Psalm 150 is a joyous song of God-praise. Its words are words of honor, gratitude, and love.
As we have done with each of the ten Psalms we studied, we took it upon ourselves to “make Psalm 150 our own.” How we did this was up to us: choosing, and expanding upon, a single line that spoke to us; drawing a verse or the entire Psalm; setting it to music or dance; re-writing it in personally meaningful way. Psalm 150 is filled with with jubilation: blasts from a ram’s horn. lutes and lyres, clanging cymbals. It is filled with Hallelujahs, in Hebrew “Praise Yah!”
Here is what Psalm 150 inspired me to write:
the voices of all souls,
all the notes of your music
and motes of your light
could find their way
to praise You.
giver of life.
sustainer of breath.
Resident within and essence of,
like a synecdoche You
are the heavens.
here at the keyboard
it’s just me.
Whose soul will praise you.
Whose breath will acclaim you
with the drum of her heart
and the strings of her tendons.
With her palms as cymbals,
her lips pursed into flute.
if you are synecdoche then
so am I.
And thus, the voices of all souls
Debra Darvick, 2021
*The female indwelling presence of God.
The photo at the left is my mother at age four or five.
It was likely taken by her father, Dr. Jacob Moses Leavitt.
I am studying Psalms with a group on Zoom. Each week, in addition to studying, discussing and taking apart the week’s Psalm, we have the opportunity to interpret it, rewrite it, draw or paint it, set it to music. A couple of weeks ago a line in Psalm 42 inspired this poem. Hear my reading of it, if you like.
“…my enemies revile me when they say to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’ “ Psalm 42:11
Oh, you enemies!
Would you stop already?
Reviling us since,
Taunting, torturing. terrorizing.
taking our lives.
And for what?
To still your own mishegoss?
Soothe your envy?
Quiet your incessant fears?
Your perennial angst that
we grow too large?
Pharaoh tried. Abimelech, too.
At the very edge of milk and honey.
His curses sprouted blessings.
We wove them into song.
Daily song, no less.
“Where is your God?”
Funny you should ask.
Did you forget that
water became blood
staff became serpent
an entire raging sea
became a dry path to freedom?
Has it worked,
this obsession of yours?
Are we gone?
Have we quit?
Give it up.
Have you phased out the moon?
Placed a bit upon curling tongues
and halted the oceans?
Rockets and planes aside,
Have you forced gravity into submission?
“Where is your God?” you ask.
As if one bad day or pogrom or
Holocaust proves anything
but your own eternal sickness.
Our God is here.
Our. God. Is. Here.
In our prayers.
In our hope.
In our desperation
and in our anger.
In our believing
“Where is your God?” you ask.
Our God is in our living.
Give it up, silly kinder. Let it go.
As the moon
as the tides
We are here. Ad Olam.
Debra B Darvick © 2021
Dor l’dor — from generation to generation
mishegoss — craziness; senseless behavior
Ginnick — enough
kinder — children (rhymes with cinder)
photo courtesy of Martin Darvick
My dear friend, Laya Crust, sent this beautiful painting to me. Her work is steeped in Jewish history, tradition and beauty. “I was wondering what I could do with my sadness over the situation in the world,” she wrote me. “The hatred is frightening. So, I wrote out these phrases and the prayer.”
She asked me to share the prayer and her visual evocation of the words. I am deeply moved and grateful to do so. For an additional sensory experience, here is the Hebrew prayer set to music composed by Julie Silver
Following my last post in this space, my rabbi sent me a link to an essay written by an Israeli tour guide and educator. In his essay he offers a thoughtful and well-considered perspective on the current dispute in Sheikh Jarrah.
I debated when it came time to fill this drawer in the cabinet. Do I write about the past two weeks in Israel? How can I not? Do I offer my opinion? Possibly. Do I want to engage in a discussion of the many rights and wrongs? Toward what end? Does it enhance anyone’s now to bring war into this space? You decide.
In the end, I gathered links to articles and information that are rarely shared by the American press.
Matti Friedman from Israel
How does terror benefit the terrorists?
Terror attacks on Jews in NYC by Palestinians
Reporting on war from the war zone
Israeli comic rebuts John Oliver’s latest
We have just passed the midway mark of the Counting of the Omer, the 49-day period between the second night of Passover and the holiday of Shavuot. In ancient times, at the beginning of the spring agricultural season, an omer (sheaf) of barley was brought to the Temple in Jerusalem as a gratitude offering on each of the ensuing 49 days. The Temple’s destruction in 70 C.E. ended the sacrificial system. Counting the Omer was ultimately transformed into a seven-week period of spiritual exploration. In this way, Jews have the opportunity to embark upon a spiritual journey that mirrors the ancient Hebrews’ physical journey of liberation from slavery (the Passover celebration) to the receiving of the Torah at the foot of Mount Sinai (the celebration of the holiday of Shavuot.)
For the past month I have been part of an online group that is counting the omer, following the structure laid out by the Kabbalists of the 17th and 18th centuries. These masters assigned to each of the seven weeks one of seven earthly emanations of the Divine: chesed (lovingkindness), g’vurah (boundaries), tif’eret (splendor/balance), netzach (endurance), hod (gratitude/humility), y’sod (intimacy) and malchut (reign/responsibility). Each day of the week embodies one of these seven qualities as well. If this sounds a bit complicated and overwhelming, it is. Yet each year I engage with this process, some nuance or other becomes clearer. Progress not perfection is our motto.
The Kabbalists taught that all seven of these earthly Divine emanations reside within each of us. One person might be quite comfortable establishing boundaries; another opens easily to lovingkindness while another struggles to cultivate endurance. The object of this inner work is to find the “sweet spot” of these character traits. If establishing boundaries comes easily to me, do I need to examine if my boundaries sometimes become walls preventing deeper personal connections? Is my lovingkindness so bountiful that I tip over into exhaustion and resentment, or have I learned to balance giving of myself with replenishing the well? Day by day our group reads and discusses where we slip up and where we glide forward.
We are now in the week of hod or gratitude, which in Hebrew is translated as “recognizing the good.” Gratitude in this sense isn’t the outpouring of ecstatic thanks but instead calls on us to take a moment, many moments in fact, to recognize our good fortune. Even in the most trying of times, we are bidden to find a kernel of light to appreciate. Something my husband does might set me off until I realize how fortunate I am to have him beside me each night and to wake up to his loving hug each morning. How can irritation not melt in the face of such blessings?
Self-awarness is a double-edged sword. The more aware I become of my thoughts and my reactions, the more I realize how far I have to go. What a judgmental, impatient, ungenerous wretch I can be! In those moments I remember again and again, “Progress, not perfection.” We are all works in progress until we draw our last breath.
Over these intense forty-nine days of counting the omer, I count my blessings, count my progress, and count to ten when the need arises. Each morning, members of our group bring sheaves of hope, determination, confusion, and more with the intention that at the end of this seven-week period we will have shaken free of enough chaff to be worthy to receive the words of Torah once again. Progress, not perfection. Yes.
I wager at least some of my Jewish readers may have looked at the yellow star of the daffodil’s back and seen another kind of yellow star, the kind Jews were forced to wear in a past that is never too distant.
We have just finished a cycle of three modern Jewish holidays collectively called the Yamim (plural for days): Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), Yom HaZikaron (a day memorializing soldiers who lost their lives fighting in the War of Independence and subsequent battles, as well as civilian victims of terrorism), and Yom HaAtzmaut (Independence Day, marking the anniversary of the establishment of the modern state of Israel in 1948). A fourth, Yom Yerushalayim, celebrates the 1967 reunification of Jerusalem and occurs next month
I looked at this daffodil, the green stem of spine supporting the blossom. It seemed to peer at the patch of sky reflected in the small puddle nearby. I couldn’t help but think of six million murdered Jews who had peered Heavenward on a blue-sky day, and silently screamed , “Why?”
One day, one day, may all humanity look to the blue heavens, spines straight, faces uplifted and none shall be afraid.